Covid-19 leads to €120m overrun in direct provision budget

Department of Justice estimates €44m shortfall in funding for Garda payroll costs

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to an overrun of €120 million or 150 per cent in the Department of Justice’s budget for direct provision in 2020.

A briefing paper prepared for incoming Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the €80 million allocated for accommodation would have been already spent by the end of June, with an updated cost estimate of €200 million for the year.

The department would have struggled to stay within budget even without the pandemic, the brief says but the difficult funding situation was exacerbated by the outbreak.

It cites a need to secure additional hotel spaces to help reduce contacts within centres. It also needs to provide self-isolation facilities in a number of locations. Other costs included personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisers to help reduce the risk of an outbreak in centres.

Overall, the department estimates it will require an additional €50 million in funding this year in other areas, because of the impact of Covid-19. An Garda Síochána will have a €44 million overrun. Costs included €44 million in extra payroll costs, €14 million in PPE equipment, as well as €4.5 million for the purchase and hire of new vehicles.

The briefing also reveals that the number of people in police custody increased by 10 per cent between 2016 and 2019 – with a substantial increase of 50 per cent in the number of women in custody.

There was also a 35 per cent increase in the daily average of people on remand, which led to the capacity being exceeded by an average of 64 per cent.

Officials also question the efficacy of the much-vaunted Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act of 2014 which offered alternatives to prisons for the non-payment of fines, including attachment of earnings and debt recovery.

The briefing states that a high volume of fines remain unpaid with very few penalties being applied. This has led, it says, to “court processes and Garda operations being affected detrimentally”.

There is a low appearance rate at enforcement hearings as well as an increase in defaulters.

The briefing discloses that the process is nearing completion to set up the long-awaited Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, which will replace the internal procedures run by the Law Society and the Bar Council.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times